Is She Really Wearing a Sexy Border Control Costume?
A few weeks ago, I turned on the television and a panel on the Megyn Kelly Show was discussing Christine Blasey Ford’s recent sexual harassment allegations against Judge Brett Kavanaugh. At the end of the segment, host Megyn Kelly segued into a discussion about the brouhaha surrounding a sexy ‘brave red maiden costume’ based on the Hulu series, The Handmaid’s Tale.
In full disclosure, I have not seen this highly popular show but have followed its meteoric rise in the media and on award shows. For those who have not seen it, the show is based on author Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel where women who have committed gender and religious crimes (e.g., adultery; being a lesbian) are required to work for the men who govern them. One group, the Handmaids, are forced to have sex with their “Commanders” in order to produce children for women who are infertile.
Yes, someone thought it was a good idea to create a costume based on a show whose subject matter is disturbing to many in today’s #MeToo environment. But it was the design of the costume which was generating all of the buzz on social media.
As People Magazine described it, “The retailer recreated the body-concealing red clothing handmaids wear in Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel (that has been adapted into an Emmy award-winning TV show) by shortening the hem via a red mini dress, adding a cape with slits along the front and side, and topping off the look with fishnet tights.”
While most of the panelists agreed this was the wrong costume at the wrong time, Ms. Kelly had a different point of view. In her mind, The Handmaid’s Tale was really about female empowerment, so why all the fuss about this less-conservative version? My jaw dropped. I sat there incredulously wondering why an outspoken victim of sexual harassment like Ms. Kelly felt that creating sexy versions of abused characters was not only appropriate but also funny.
The discouraging news is that despite widespread media coverage of individuals who continue to make poor choices when selecting costumes, we continue to witness co-workers and friends donning costumes that are, at a minimum, insensitive (i.e., dressing as a Native American) or downright offensive (i.e., coming as a convicted sex offender like Jerry Sandusky or Bill Cosby).
On the flip side, increasingly there is a price to pay for those who fail to understand how their actions negatively impact others.The Hindu community was quick to denounce Heidi Klum, creator of the hit reality show Project Runway, when she dressed up as Hindu goddess Kali for Halloween one year. For Hindus, Goddess Kali is highly revered and meant to be worshipped in temples, not used for publicity stunts, or thrown around loosely for dramatic effect. Dancing with the Stars’ judge Julianne Hough faced a raft of negative publicity when she appeared in black face while depicting Crazy Eyes from Orange is the New Black.
But, becoming infamous (for the wrong reasons) can happen in an instant for anyone thanks to pictures posted on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. In 2013, a woman dressed as a Boston Marathon bombing victim was subsequently fired from her job.
If you were hoping I would provide a checklist of dos and don’ts to help guide your selection of this year’s costumes to avoid your becoming the next internet celebrity for the wrong reason, I am afraid you will be disappointed.
Just like many of the other topics I discuss in this column, my hope is that you will pause and take a moment to ask yourself whether your costume idea is as brilliant as you believe or if some people might be surprised or shocked when you walk into the room.
Do I know anyone who might take offense to my costume? If the answer might be yes, ask others what they think. If you are uncertain, perhaps adjusting the costume or going in another direction makes sense. When all else fails, Google your costume idea. You may be surprised to learn that your brilliant idea is just the opposite.
What might others think about me because I wore this costume? Like it or not, people make snap judgments about others based on how they present themselves in different situations. Ask yourself, if you were at a party and saw someone come in the room wearing your costume, how would it make you feel? Also, if your boss or members of your family were in the room, what do you think they would say?
Remember, everyone’s perspective is influenced by their personal experience in life. If you were born in Mexico and someone else showed up dressed in a sombrero and poncho, how would that make you feel? ▼
Wesley Combs is a diversity and inclusion expert and a passionate social justice advocate. He is the founding Principal of Combs Advisory Services, working with clients who share his values of enabling equity, equality and opportunity in the workplace and community.